By Mike Downing
August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” opens today and is slated to run through Oct. 9 at Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J.
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the play looks at the music business of the 1920s, an era when black artists were taken advantage of by white record producers.
The titular character is based, of course, on the legendary singer Ma Rainey (played by Arnetia Walker), who was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett (1886-1939) in Columbus, Georgia.
In the play, Ma is keenly aware of the situation she’s in and does her best to provide for her partner, Dussie Mae (Chante Adams), and her nephew, Sylvester (Marcel Spears), as well as the members of her band.
Much of the play consists of banter between the musicians: Cutler (James A. Williams), Toledo (Brian D. Coats), Levee (Brandon J. Dirden), and Slow Drag (Harvey Blanks), who talk earnestly about their lives and beliefs.
Irvin is played by Michael Cumpsty and Sturdyvant is played by Peter Van Wagner.
Additional information on behind-the-scenes artists/ production crew is available on the Two Rivers website.
Wilson wrote the play in 1982. It premiered on Broadway on Oct. 11, 1984, directed by Lloyd Richards.